Designing Product Strategy for Growth - AMA with Deepak Krishnan

Hello folks! Welcome back to our weekly AMA series. This week we were elated to have Deepak Krishnan, Sr. Director, Product at Myntra.

Deepak has been building products across a wide range of industries over the last decade - cloud computing, communications, ecommerce, gaming, fnb, transportation, hr, payments & fashion whilst building his own start-ups and working with Zynga, FreeCharge, Zoom Car, Chai Point, Vahan & Myntra.

Deepak is currently driving growth for Myntra through products solving for Traffic & Distribution, Acquisition, Engagement, Retention, Platforms, Experimentation & New Growth Initiatives.

So let's jump straight into the AMA!

Designing Product Strategy For Growth

In this AMA Deepak answered questions about setting the growth Product Sense and Strategy. Find out more below!

What exactly 'scaling' means and is it different from notions of what 'agile' world talks about?

"Scaling" in general applies to growing a business - in terms of revenue, customers, org size, operations etc. On the other hand, "agile" in its simplest essence is iterative development over big bang launch - teams work on delivering incremental usable products as opposed to building the complete product and launching it. This methodology of agile however works only in certain industries - such as software development.

How does hyper scaling affect Org design and structure? What are some good/not so good impacts if there are any changes in org design due to hyper scaling?

Hyper Scaling & Good Org Design go hand in hand. As you scale, more often than not you would need more people. And with more people, collaboration & communication breaks down faster. There are exceptions where incredibly lean tiny teams have built super scale products such as WhatsApp, but these are rare exceptions. Org design is still more an art than a science in my personal opinion and it takes multiple iterations to identify the model that works best for your org that unlocks rapid speed of execution.When your org design is done well you will see :

  1. Faster alignment
  2. Faster execution
  3. Strong shared understanding of problem statements and priorities
  4. Great harmony between teams
  5. Lesser dependency blockers

When org design is poor , you will see :

  1. Incredible time being wasted in arriving at alignment
  2. Dead slow execution
  3. Dependency messiness between teams
  4. High tension between teams

Defining who does what & how with clear guard rails, boundary conditions and conflict resolution protocols help in empowering teams for speed at scale. However this is easier said than done as we are dealing with people, their ambitions and aspirations. So it's also super critical that you scale with the right people at the right pace.

How are budgetary things aligned when a product is at different stages of its Maturity?

On budgets, in my perspective, is largely subjective to the nature of the company and stage & amount of capital available. Very early stage startups usually flush with capital have a budget unlimited mindset and therefore have probably to throw more money & people at the problem. At scale when there are multiple product teams competing for budget and profitability is a necessity, usually each product team makes pitches for funding similar to early stage startups. They have to make a strong case for opportunity, impact, resources required to get to said impact with multiple scenarios. Senior leadership evaluates these opportunities and then sponsors these initiatives. So in these kinds of conditions, product managers and leaders have to have a very strong narrative, business case, demonstrate ruthless prioritisation and risk mitigation plans to win funding for their product charters.

How do you ensure inter/intra team/business alignment not only at execution level but more from chalking out strategy till execution?

Alignment is based on shared understanding & acceptance - of the truths, of the problem statements & of the priorities. And one of the core responsibilities of the PM function is to drive this alignment.In order to drive such alignment, a PM must be incredibly mindful of the time available to arrive at alignment. Sometimes you will have very little time, sometimes you have ample amount of time.Therefore a critical skill a PM must also develop is to forecast issues that would require alignment. This allows you to "buy" time to drive alignment discussions.In order to drive effective alignment, it is important to facilitate all stakeholders to confidently share their beliefs, their understanding, their fears & their concerns. And this takes time. As PMs we need to dig in deep to understand motives similar to understanding user motives to identify why alignment may not happen.In scenarios where time is limited and arriving at a consensus is difficult, one can take an executive call with the condition of revisiting basis learning as well as having a risk mitigation plan should things go haywire.

What aspects of growth PM fascinates you most? What made you go deep into growth?

Personally, I got fascinated with growth PM because I wanted to learn what it takes to blitzscale companies effectively. Building a product for 1M users is fun. But getting it into the hands of 100M or a 1Bn users is a different ball game. I wanted to learn how to approach this problem structurally without having to throw money at the problem. Growth Product Management is also probably a lot more business focussed. No customer ever said make me loyal to your product. It's the businesses that need to grow , grow fast & grow sustainably. In that sense growth PMs need to have a very strong business sense to develop the right product strategy to sustainably scale growth. 

What are the top 3 skills a PM should work on early in their career?

I will answer it as top skills a PM should work on IMHO :

  • Storytelling - A PMs core purpose is to bring together various functions for a common goal & storytelling becomes a powerful skillset to inspire and mobilise your team. As you grow in your career this skill set also helps you influence stakeholders.
  • Structured Thinking - As PMs our lives are constantly shrouded in ambiguity. Putting structure to ambiguity helps in deconstructing complex problems to simpler ones.
  • Ruthless prioritisation - easier said than done. But as you grow in your career, there will always be more fires to put out than you can tend to, there will be more customer problems than you can address and you most certainly will always always be under-resourced. Whilst there are a tonne of frameworks out there, over time you will also need to develop your own heuristics if no one framework is always effective. There will always be newer problems where a framework will not work well.
  • Understanding your customer - whilst this has been talked about by everyone, here I am going to emphasise more on the "how". Don't get biassed to only one methodology. Learn how to know thy customers through user research, through data, through observation, through market reports, through experimentation. But more importantly know when to use which methodology bases the constraints you face.
  • Execution rigour - in the end all the above amounts to nothing if you don't ship products that make an impact. Learn to develop a strong execution muscle to ship outcomes consistently. It will help with building all the above skills faster.

For an individual who is relatively new to the leadership role (Group Product Manager), What  are the top 2 things that you would suggest from an execution standpoint ?

  1. GPM in my understanding in most organisations is the first people management responsibility role. In this regard, knowing your team [ their strengths, their weaknesses, their aspirations ] and knowing the problem you have to solve , thereby assigning, inspiring & empowering the right person for the job is most critical. This should be an incredibly thoughtful exercise. Done well and you should see your team members execute well and drive outcomes. Done badly and your team will burn out and your charter will languish.
  1. To achieve the above, you need to earn the trust of your team. You need to demonstrate that you deeply care about their success and  wellbeing. You need to demonstrate vulnerability. You need to know when to have their backs and when to let them learn to fight their own battles. You need to provide them the right environment in which they can thrive and shield them from all the chaos that goes on around them. In all you have to be the best coach there has ever been

How important a role does data play in designing product strategy for growth?

Data does play a very crucial role. However it is not the only determinant.Internal data helps in identifying what about your current product(s) is not working and therefore why you are not growing. However it doesn't show you new opportunities in the market.For this reason one must also have a very strong first principles understanding of the market one is operating in and keep their eyes and ears peered to new opportunities emerging in the market to tap in on. Here is where as PM's one must also craft their sense on predicting which of these newer behaviours/markets/channels/opportunities one should take a bet on to ride the next big growth wave.

In both the above cases , we have still only identified opportunities. To solve for and therefore arrive at a product strategy, one needs to also be creative - leveraging the resources and strengths that your company & ecosystem has to come up with a meaningful solution space which through ruthless prioritisation translates to an effective product strategy.

Any resources you can recommend on how to solve for activation and retention specifically? What do you think is a key insight that you've seen product teams do well?

On activation & retention, Reforge has a good collection. On the latter part of key insight of what product teams do well - most growth product teams end up copying standard activation & retention solutions implemented by other companies rather blindly [ sarcasm intended on doing well. Every company's activation and retention problems are unique and one should spend a decent time trying to understand the first principles of your customers' challenges to activation or why they are not retained to solve effectively. 

What are your favourite resources where you learn what's new in a product?

My favourite resources are largely following product people on Linkedin, reading up on YC startups and blogs of big tech companies & a tonne of podcasts. Medium also occasionally recommends some new development news. Of late my CB insights subscription also has been delivering some good content on what's happening in the product tech space.

For a product that doesn’t have a good LTV (for e.g., what aspects must a product manager keep in mind? Especially since habit building is not possible in such products, how can we grow such products and businesses?

Hmmm, well, I am curious as to why should have a poor LTV given India's obsession with marriage but let's park that aside for a moment. 

To answer the question of growth, one must first ask what are we seeking to grow ? Revenue or Customer Base ? Each of these will spawn a different solution.

If one is seeking to grow revenue, then this is a question of monetisation i,e how do we capture more $value/customer. Here the question what are the other premium services one can offer that would help one increase their prospect on or if there were a successful match, how could one further monetise that event. There are many monetisation pathways here. 

If one is seeking to grow the customer base and I am assuming given's subscription business, you would like users to continue subscription. If you were to pivot on Shaadi as the behaviour, yeah then you really don't have a habit. That's your exit event. But your product's atomic unit is "potential matches" and whoever has signed up on your platform on a daily basis has the desire to find their dream partner. This is an emotion that problems surface quite regularly. From the pov, it's closer to Tinder/Bumble except with a goal of marriage. So long as you help an individual to keep matching with prospective partners and enable connections that can be explored successfully, you will keep bringing the individual back to the platform. To that extent you need to find out what % of signups get a good match within a certain time frame before they feel your "marketplace" has nothing to offer.

How do you design your data stack for growth, especially 10-100 journeys?

I am assuming by 10-1000 journeys you are referring to a company probably at 10's of Millions of Customers.At this stage, it's super subjective to the nature of business. For a business that probably requires say responses for users within seconds or say decisions that need to be made near real time would have a very very different data platform architecture vs one that probably can have a day of delay. Say for e.g at Myntra, we needed to build an entirely exclusive new data platform ground up to deal with near real time personalisation because none of current architecture could support its use cases.If you are looking for a framework, I would start with use cases and NFRs - availability, scalability, security, operability, concurrency, compliance, cost etc.

What would be your advice to the folks starting out their product journeys in B2C space?

  1. Use as many B2C products as often as possible and understand why it works/doesn't work.
  2. Build and launch products as quickly and often as possible. Building products is a craft and the more often you do it, the faster you learn. We have so many biases building products that the best way to build humility is launching them and seeing them used by real customers.

How do you plan your product growth when all the features (let's say the product has 3-4 exclusive features) of the product have different sets of user cohorts?

Well this is highly subjective to the stage of your company. If it were an early stage startup, it would boil down to which cohort matters the most to you and ignore the rest. As a startup you are limited in resources, if you spread thinly and solve for everyone, you'll solve for no-one really well.

At a late stage company as well looking to grow, it's a function of how closely overlapping the user cohorts are and how big the opportunity is. Usually most companies try to go after the next big adjacent customer cohort wherein the existing product works well for the core market and with few more new features helps to include a newer market.  If they appeal to a very disconnected market, the effort to move over and win such markets would be prohibitively expensive at scale. 

Hence companies would refrain from making such jumps.A framework I use is the onion ring model of markets where we map all customer cohorts to a layer of the onion ring and ask ourselves who is our central core customer and thus who are our next set of adjacent customers. Our growth strategy stems for our next best adjacent customer cohort. This defines our product strategy to develop and the features to build.

What is the new age strategy for engaging users and improving conversion rates?

Highly subjective to the nature of the problem you are solving. I wish it was as easy as saying - use Gamification.Rather let me share a framework to device such a strategy :

  1. Use first principles to understand the need/desire states of your customers/users. 
  2. For this set of customers/users go deep into their life and see what other products/services that they are obsessively using  on which you can infer their mental models.3. See which of these mental models you can import into your business.

What is the best way to develop product sense?

Building products is a function of two things

  1. Understanding customers
  2. Understanding the systems that help you build products that solve their problems.

To improve your product sense , one must thus

  1. Observe your users - understand them in totality not just in the context of the problem you are solving
  2. Use products and understand how they work and why they work
  3. Observe communities and societies to see how their behaviours are changing with time
  4. Observe the technology landscape and understand what technology can and cannot do today, a few years from now and many years from now.
  5. Build products - product management is a craft. the more your build, the more you can hone your product sense.

How do you define Hyper scaling?

Hyperscaling is what we call when we are to plot user or revenue growth on a graph and see it manifest as an exponential function

What is the role of pricing strategy in scaling of product? How to identify the right price to scale your product?

Pricing plays an incredible lever in scaling products. Pricing is however a double edge sword. Price is the biggest deterrent for users to use your product. To arrive at your ideal pricing strategy, it would be good to understand your target market's price sensitivity and willingness to pay by observing substitute products. Thereafter it's a series of experiments to arrive at the right price.

What skills do you look for while hiring growth talent?

Same skills that we look for when hiring for core products. A great PM is fungible and should be able to work across domains rather well. Sure there will be a learning curve, but the best PMs learn incredibly fast.

That said I specifically look for

  1. Communication skills
  2. Ability to structure complex & ambiguity problems
  3. Ability to manage chaos and high pressure situations
  4. Stakeholder management
  5. Creativity
  6. Understanding of markets and technology
  7. Analytical skills
  8. Business sense
  9. Execution rigour
  10. Curiosity
  11. Learning mindset
  12. Being a good team player

How do you optimise the consumer journey (browsing & discovery, customer success) for D2C?

Customer lifecycle orchestration is a very vast topic. By optimisation I am inferring your goal to be conversion and therefore LTV maximisation.Optimising your consumer journey will be a function of

  1. Right selection for your TG
  2. Right price point
  3. Efficient discovery products - search, recommendations etc
  4. Effective decision making - great product images, meaningful product information, trust markers
  5. Inventory availability
  6. Serviceability i.e ability to deliver products to customers pincode
  7. Right mix of payment instrument support
  8. Easily accessible customer support
  9. Right channel mix for marketing & remarketing
  10. Delivery experience
  11. Returns policy
  12. Positive word of mouth/reviews

Optimising for each of these 12 is a fairly deep subject in itself. For e.g how to recommend products to accelerate product discovery in itself is a deep topic and depends on how people land your page and its solution will be different when one comes organically vs when one comes via paid marketing.

How to approach growth strategy for a 0-1 B2C vs a matured B2C company like Myntra?

The framework for growth be it 0-1 or 1-100 remains the same. The number of methods one has to use changes with scale.The first principles of growth are

  1. How do you get users - I call this traffic problems
  2. How do we get users to experience core value as quickly as possible aka acquisition
  3. How do we get users to experience value as often as possible - engagement & retention
  4. How do we capture value from customers - monetisation
  5. How do we grow faster - platforms & experiments

As a 0-1 B2C company you will have one TG and one channel of acquisition, one monetisation model and experiments to get it right with this mix.As a 1-100B2C company you will have multiple traffic channels you will try to scale and experiment with. You would have newer cohorts of customers for whom you will design acquisition products. You will have more need/desire states which have been identified around which you can build engagement and drive retention. Because you have to grow faster, you will build more platform capabilities to build products faster. One big difference as a mature company is to drive sustained growth you will be looking for newer markets or business opportunities to explore around which you will experiment new product lines.

Marketing comes with a cost, how would you optimise?

Marketing cost optimisation is a fair complex topic.Cost optimisation strategies will largely depend on brand marketing vs performance marketing.Brand marketing is pivoted on brand salience measure is a measure of success.Perf marketing on the other hand is usually measured upon certain core commerce metrics which is more often than not revenue.Given this usually the questions that help us optimise are

  1. When should you target ?
  2. How often should you target ?
  3. Which channel should I target ?
  4. How much should I spend on the basic customer cohort ?
  5. Which is the right value prop at this stage of the customer lifecycle ?
  6. Which is the right format of communication?
  7. Which value prop should I prioritise if there are multiple value props that fit this audience?
  8. How do we target in real time ?
  9. Which channel should I attribute my revenue to ?

Answering these questions would allow us to spend our marketing monies more effectively to drive higher ROI.

What are your favourite books to learn about product led growth?

Most of my learnings come from trying to think how some companies should have tried to grow and then do research over the internet to find out how they actually tried growing and see how my frameworks are aligned or divergent. That said books like Hacking Growth by Sean Ellis or The Cold Start Problem by Andrew Chen are some good reads to get your thoughts sparking.

What are your go to frameworks for supply chain optimization, specifically in dealing with sellers on the e-commerce platform?

When you say you are dealing with sellers on an e-commerce platform there is a wide range of problems that a seller faces.

  • What should be the inventory model ?
  • 1P or 3P logistics ?
  • Pricing ?
  • Procurement / Seller workflows ?
  • Catalogue management ?
  • Analytics
  • Payments
  • Tax and compliance
  • Customer support
  • Value added services

The general product craft frameworks such as 5 Whys, Issue Trees, Jobs To Be Done, Solution Trees, RICE framework etc can all be equally applied to approach any of the above seller problems.

What is the most interesting book/concept that you have read around product led growth and how has that been useful in your product growth career?

Very early in my career during my time at Zynga, we were exposed to this concept called core loops - a series of actions that you perform in a loop which when done pushes you progressively deeper into the experience. This concept I found to be highly eye opening as it hits open the nuance of compounding. When we typically look at most growth structures it's rather liner and one directional. But true growth actually happens in loops. Take for e.g the typical Acquisition, Activation, Retention framework. Typical approach is to consider getting as many users into acquisition and there is a conversion rate which leads to activation. However this is highly inefficient. Rarely do users need 1 touch to get effectively converted. Users need to loop multiple times through the acquisition paths to maximise activation. Thinking in loops allows you to see it as a spectrum of problems to be solved in tandem and not in isolation. For e.g in some businesses post initial acquisition one probably has to retarget users to repeatedly reacquire and push them down into the acquisition funnel to effectively convert.

What are the challenges in driving organic product growth?

Designing product experiences for Word Of Mouth is indeed rather hard. A key question that we ask ourselves is " What is the magical solution that will make our customers brag about this experience offline & online". As humans we love to brag to increase our status - we all want to be seen smarter, superior etc. If you solve the problem in such a way that your users can appear super cool in front of their friends, they will talk about this experience to their friend and ergo you have sparked WoM.

Given your experience across multiple startups, would love to learn how you've been able to structure playbooks around this?

Writing notes and observing patterns has been the single most effective methodology to build playbooks.

How do you approach changing technology stack and infrastructure as you scale?

As a PM, along with your engineering counterpart, we need to look into the future and know the breakpoint of your current stack - this will emerge as limitations in terms of use cases, scale etc. You need to have some metric to measure how close or far you are away from this break point.Given this breakpoint, you need to also have some sense of the cost [ time, money, people] of the next stage of your tech stack or infra to get it up and running.For e.g in recent times we changed our tech stack for one of our communication systems. We had already anticipated in late 2020 that for the upcoming use cases in 2021 onwards as well as scale, our current stack will start failing. So we had to build a case to get extra funding to support tandem development of the new stack which took us about 2 quarters post which we transitioned use cases to the new tech stack. This allowed smooth business continuity at scale as well the ability to hit the ground running with the new use cases.

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